Fighting Escalates Between Gov’t, Rebel Alliance in Shan State

By Lawi Weng 17 October 2014

RANGOON — Fighting erupted for the second time this month between the Burma Army and an allied force of ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State this week, according to an officer of one rebel group.

Tar Kyan Hein of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the Burma Army Light Infantry Divisions 11 and 99 invaded rebel territories of Loi Kang village in Tarmoenye, a sub-township of Kutkhai, where a similar incident in early October reportedly left 17 government soldiers dead after they tried to advance on TNLA territory.

At least three rebel armies—TNLA, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—have bases in the area and consider each other allies. Tar Kyan Hein said that the Burmese troops encountered and fought with each group over the past two days.

“We [the TNLA] clashed with them [the Burma Army] on Thursday for about three hours,” he said, adding that the Burma Army attacked both KIA and MNDAA soldiers the previous day. Tar Kyan Hein said that some rebel troops were wounded and an unknown number of government troops were killed during the skirmishes.

Reports on social media have led many to believe that at least one Burma Army captain died in the conflict.

Tar Kyan Hein said that 30 trucks carrying Burmese troops drove into the area last week and began launching an offensive; first against the MNDAA, then clashing with the KIA before opening another frontline on the fringes of TNLA ground.

Tensions remained high after fighting subsided as the government troops did not withdraw. The TNLA officer warned that the conflict could resume “at any time.”

Rebels say that the Burma Army’s presence has been steadily increasing in the ethnically diverse area surrounding the upper Salween River. The TNLA has claimed that about 2,000 Burmese troops have been stationed in Kutkhai, Namkham and Namsam townships since 2013.

Similar reports have come out of Kachin State in the country’s far north, where conflict continues between the government and the state’s most dominant rebel groups, the KIA and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N). Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Burma Army LID 66 ordered 1,000 civilians to evacuate three villages near Hpakant, a mining town rich in jade.

KIA spokesperson La Nan confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Burma Army had ordered his troops to leave their bases, but the KIA refused to stand down. No fighting has since been reported but local sources said that villagers have been ordered not to leave their homes pending a resolution from the capital.

The United Nations Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of ethnic armed groups, issued a public statement on Wednesday denouncing recent attacks by the Burmese military against ethnic armed groups that are currently embroiled in peace negotiations.

Joint-Chairman of the UNFC Nai Hong Sar told BBC Burmese on Thursday that continued state aggression toward ethnic minorities could set Burma back to pre-reform conditions. Speculating that the government could be trying to gain more ground before securing a nationwide ceasefire, he added that the UNFC will continue to negotiate with the government to achieve lasting peace.

“From our perspective, we don’t want to lose what we have already accomplished during the peace process. There will be some people within the government who agree with us, we will do as much as we can. But things will go back to how they were if they [the government] keeps attacking ethnic armed groups,” he told the BBC.